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The first army to bear this name fell victim to the budget reforms of Empress Mariika. In 379YE, the Senator for Karov, Maximov Goraniv Strascovich, received authority from the Senate to raise the army. It was completed shortly before the Winter solstice 380YE. The core of the army is made up of former followers of a sovereign known as the Charnel Lord. The Iron Helms are renowned for their cruelty, employing merciless strategy against those they face in war.

The third Varushkan general leads the Army of the Iron Helms army, and is appointed (or re-appointed) at the Spring equinox each year.


The Iron Helms were the second Imperial army raised in Varushka, after the Northern Eagle. Recruited following the conquest of Karsk, much of the funding was provided by the "miners of Moresvah" - politically active members of the Malinov, Sloev and Pravin families. Presenting the motion, Lyudmachia Pavilenka Malinov, the first Senator of Karsk, made much of the need to secure the Empire's northern borders against the Thule, and of the importance of having an army in the East that could match the fearful threat of the orcs of the Mallum. Recruitment favoured the most ruthless Varushkan soldiers, with an emphasis on wagon raiders and sell swords unburdened by qualms of conscience. The army proved controversial even before it had fully mustered, with Senator Malinov extending an invitation to the children of those who had fought for Alderei the Fair, provided they swore oaths of loyalty to Mother Varushka. Despite stiff opposition from some quarters - allegedly involving Empress Richilde herself - the army finally mustered in Moresvah in the Autumn of 47YE.

Almost immediately it was called on to repulse an invasion of Karsk by the Mallum orcs. Under General Yevkavich Radokiya Avenka, the Helms utilized tactics that would become a watchword for cruelty within the Empire for centuries to come. Fighting alongside the Northern Eagle and the Wolves of War, the Iron Helms annihilated one of the invading armies, leaving a forest of orc bodies impaled on stakes along the borders of Krevsaty - and giving rise to tales of tormented orc spectres that persist in the region to this day.

The cruelty employed by the Iron Helms against their enemies remained controversial throughout their history. In 123YE then General Ofiya Zerkovoia Sloev was revoked by the Assembly of the Nine during an ill-fated invasion of Skarsind. In the Autumn of that year, with predictions of a particularly severe winter, General Sloev led her troops in an attack against key targets that crippled the northern orc's ability to feed their troops in the alpine territory. This led to widespread starvation and the deaths of a great many human slaves. The Varushkan senators believed Ofiya was the best person to push the Thule out of Skarsind and secure it in the name of Varushka and to the outrage of the Cardinals they immediately reinstated her. In the uproar that ensued, the generals of Wintermark and Navarr refused to fight alongside her, ultimately forcing the Varushkans to withdraw all their forces from the campaign to pacificy Skarsind. The Varushkans never returned to the territory, and decades later when it was finally conquered it was assigned as part of Wintermark.

During the reign of Empress Varkula, the Iron Helms were allegedly given free reign to drive the barbarians out of Varushka on the understanding that their tactics did not harm the people of the vales. Faced with a ruthless campaign by the Iron Helms under the draughir general, Poklona Natskaya Kestovia, the Thule fought a defensive campaign that ended with their depleted armies withdrawing north across the mountains rather than risk destruction. Under the harsh discipline of the Iron Helms, Imperial forces finally conquered Miekarova, ultimately securing the northern borders of Varushka and the Empire as a whole. Coupled with their defeat in Skarsind, it would be another twenty years before the minions of the Dragons would again venture into Imperial territory.

After Varkula's death, the Iron Helms experienced both victories and defeats as is the case with any Imperial army. Over the next eighty years, they cemented their reputation as an army who would get things done, teaching the Thule and the Druj in particular to fear the might of Imperial Varushka. Despite malicious depictions in popular fiction, their use of what one League writer referred to as extreme tactics appears to have been relatively restrained. The image of the Iron Helms as merciless killers who impaled soldiers and civilians alike on barbed spikes and laughed as they died has been broadly debunked. There is no doubt, however, that when the general considered it appropriate the soldiers of the Iron Helms were prepared to follow orders that might have proved unacceptable to those fighting under less "practical" banners. One tradition that caused particular unhappiness among some of their peers was that the Iron Helms did not take prisoners - defeated orc soldiers were summarily executed.

Their behaviour earned them significant scrutiny during the reign of Emperor Frederick, when concerns were raised in the Brass Coast and Urizen about the use of vicious Varushkan mastiffs in battle and the rumours of an unwholesome origin for these savage hounds. The investigations came to naught, and the Helms remained one of the only Imperial armies to make use of beasts of war on the battlefield. Stories of the Iron Helms remain coloured by the views of those who tell them. Even in a time when many Imperial armies took their enemies as slaves, the cruelty of the Iron Helms remained polarizing. To their critics they represented the worst of the grim nature of the Varushkan people - an army without scruples no more virtuous than the enemies they fought. To their supporters they exemplified the harsh reality of life in the cold north - their tactics may have been harsh, but they were driven by necessity not sadism or cruelty. What nobody could deny was that the calculated brutality of the Iron Helms was effective - the bloodshed might turn the stomach, but it was never without purpose. When Emperor Frederick once questioned whether the Iron Helms could not be less controversial, the sardonic response of General Alexei Caterinovich Sloev was simply "not if you want us to win."

You ask me how I sleep at night when I hear their screams? Every orc that meets the dawn impaled on a wooden spear is another shadow that will never fall over a Varushkan vale. Every sinew torn from the body is another foot that will never tread on Varushkan soil. Nobody who serves in the Helms does so in the hope that they may sleep easily at night; we serve that our children might know peace. There is no river we will not cross when the lives of those we love hang in the balance. You call me unvirtuous - am I lacking in Ambition? Do you find me bereft of Vigilance? Do you? What I am is uncivilised... Yes I have murdered and killed and my hands are covered in blood. But it is the blood of our enemies - and it stains my hands so that yours can remain clean. With your waking breath you curse us but you thank us in your dreams. Civilised people only sleep at night because we keep the wolf from your door.

General Sasha Ivonya Pravin, Synod Inquisition, Summer Solstice, 174AE


The history of the original Iron Helms ended during the reign of Empress Mariika. With the Empire on the verge of bankruptcy, the Throne demanded that two Imperial armies must be disbanded. As the arguments raged in the Senate and the Military Council, the Iron Helms were targeted by a popular campaign that painted them as being especially unvirtuous. Despite their military successes a number of priests, particularly within the Courage and Pride assemblies, remained critical of their reputation and used their platforms to denounce the Varushkan army. The timely revelation of an alleged cult of Agramant in the lower ranks of the army helped seal their fate, as did an extended period of peace along the north-eastern borders of the Empire.

There were furious protests in front of the Senate and Military Council, but they came to nothing. The last General of the Iron Helms Bera Velik Pravin was more sanguine. "Sometimes you put your axe away for a while," she is reported as saying. "Then winter comes and you remember why you needed it."

Recent History

In 368YE, Karsk fell to invasion by the Thule. After a decade of fighting back and forth, the territory was liberated at the end of 378YE, and then its future secured at least in the short term by a treaty ratified in Summer 378YE. Almost immediately there were calls for a new Varushkan army. The new army mustered under the banner of the Iron Helms. The Malinov, Sloev, and Pravin again offered support to the creation of the army, and helped provide materials and soldiers. This time however there was an additional element added to the mix - the insular people of the hills of Branoc, Crowslook, and eastern Nitrost, who had fought both alongside and against the Thule under the auspices of an ancient sovereign known as the Charnel Lord or the Lord of the Broken Barrow. With warriors from these vales forming a significant part of the new armed forces it was perhaps inevitable that the army would have a certain darkness to its corps.

Any hopes that the new Iron Helms would avoid controversy were immediately dashed. Straight after being mustered in Spring 381YE, the Iron Helms stormed Crows Keep in Skarsind, crushing the forces of the rebellious Wintermark thane Dogri Thulesbane before he could launch a major raid against the Thule in the Silver Peaks, potentially destroying the recent peace treaty. The Varushkan army brought Dogri and his lieutenants to Anvil to face trial, but their actions attracted significant criticism especially the use of war dogs against Imperial citizens. Accusations were levelled that General Magnus Anatolyvich Prochnost had instructed the troops to murder the families of Wintermark citizens; accusations that were later proved to be groundless.

From Skarsind they marched south to Mournwold, joining the fight against the Jotun. During Summer 381YE they unleashed a merciless onslaught against the occupying barbarians. The Jotun are known to place much stock in respecting the dead - so the Iron Helms mutilated and despoiled the bodies of their fallen opponents, burning them beyond recognition and then hanging the charred remains from trees and signposts. Their presence in the Mourn was haunted by stories of prisoners torn apart by dogs, of captured Jotun warriors impaled on rough stakes in front of their fellow orcs. While the Iron Helms were scrupulous in obeying the orders of general Magnus - no civilian was harmed by design - any enemy who dares to raise a weapon against the Empire faced an agonising death at the hands of the Iron Helms. Word soon spread throughout the territory: the Empire had returned, and brought a bloody murder with them to the Mourn. While they missed the Harrowing of the Mournwold by several months, their cruelty in dealing with their Jotun enemies is still remembered in the Marches.

Winter 381YE saw them engaged with the Grendel in Spiral. There they balanced the need to claim ground with the desire to kill the southern orcs. Not everyone welcomed their presence. Soldiers of the Fire of the South, Red Wind Corsairs, and the Green Shields refused to fight alongside them. They fought alongside the Wolves of War and Citadel Guard in the north. The Varushkan army kept their cruelty carefully leashed, but the orcs were very much aware of their presence. Even without the warning provided by their dark banners and the flocks of carrion birds that drifted in their wake, the presence of the Black Plateau seemed to make their advance even more pronounced. Even some Imperials suffered nightmares of being savaged by terrible red-eyed soot-black hounds with iron teeth.

Opinion is divided as to what role the Iron Helms played in the devastation that struck the Urizen territory. It is a matter of record that the Helms invoked sinister pacts in the shadow of the Black Plateau. Supported by magicians from the darkest parts of Varushka - cabalists well versed in the arts of bargaining, and the sinister entities they had bound. Any orc that fell into their hands was torn apart by dogs, crucified, ripped limb from limb, impaled... and perhaps egged on by the spirit of the Plateau itself their cruelty only escalated. Exactly what happened is known only to the Varushkans who were there, but in some way the actions of the Iron Helms caused the Black Plateau to fully awake, sending waves of terror, despair, and hatred out across the whole of Spiral.

For the rest of that tumultuous Spring, everyone in the territory - human and orc alike - was left with a profound awareness of the Iron Helms. They knew where they were, and they knew every time one of them slaughtered an orc. Both Imperial and Grendel were painfully aware in their dreams and waking nightmares of every cruelty the Varushkans inflicted on the enemies of the Empire. The presence of the Helms at the Battle of Solen's Doubt practically unhinged some of the Grendel fighting there, and two entire orc armies - the Sand Pipers and the Stone Gyre - tore themselves apart in the face of the terror they inspired.

Then, rather than rest on their laurels, as Spring matured into Summer the Iron Helms engaged in a campaign of wholesale terror and slaughter against every orc they could find. Without the supernatural terror unleashed by their magicians during the previous season, they were forced to rely on more mundane tools of torture and execution - but they proved their expertise in such matters time and again. There are few enough orcs left in the territory - the Grendel appear to have made a full retreat - but some still fall into the hands of the Varushkan soldiers of the Iron Helms and suffered for it. The Grendel defenders of Apulian threw themselves into the waters of the Bay of Catazar rather than face the fate that awaited them if they fell into the hands of the Varushkans.

The actions of the Iron Helms were deeply controversial, while they actions appeared to enjoy the support of many Urizeni citizens who attended Anvil, most of the ordinary magicians who lived in Spiral blamed them for the doom that befell the territory. The Black Plateau has subsided a little, but shows no sign of returning to fitful slumber. Many are convinced that not only did the Iron helms rouse the spirit of the Plateau, but their continued cruelties after the Battle of Solen's Doubt strengthened it even further and anchored the malignant presence that hangs over the entire territory to this day.

Despite continued criticism, the Iron Helms remained in Urizen. In Winter 382YE, they participated in the trap laid for the Druj at Canterspire, and as Spring 383YE dawned they helped to hound the fleeing orcs of the Mallum out of Morrow entirely.

Within two years of their formation, the Iron Helms had faced all three of the barbarian nations that beset the Empire and taught them to fear their ruthless tactics. Their campaign of terror was not without cost, however. Wintermark and the Brass Coast have been openly critical of their behaviour, with the assemblies of those nations denouncing their cruelty to the degree where the soldiers of those nations will not fight alongside them. In response, their own assembly made it quite clear that the people of Varushka stood in solidarity with the leaders and warriors of the Iron Helms. Despite the opposition from some quarters, the Iron Helms continue to fight in the south-east.

After a short visit to the city of Sarvos to resupply (during which time controversy continued to dog them in the shape of stories that the shambling unliving horrors fighting alongside them were preying on League citizens), they returned to Urizen. Winter 383YE saw them campaigning to liberate Zenith. While their allies tried to secure Clypion, the Iron Helms focussed on striking fear into the hearts of the Druj. Taking no prisoners, neither offering nor asking any quarter the Helms missed no opportunity to demoralise the forces arrayed against them. Wherever they fought, they unleashed the shambling horrors that fought beside them to devour the fallen, and the Winter spirits that ride within the rotten cadavers rarely bothered to wait for their prey to be dead before they begin to feast. Fat carrion crows drifted over the foothills of Clypion, and the triumphant howls of the Helm's war dogs echoed through the valleys.


The new Iron Helms embrace strategies that make some of the other Imperial nations uneasy. In 380YE and 381YE, a number of National Assemblies expressed concerns about the way they conducted themselves. Imperatrix Lisabetta added her own voice to those of Wintermark, the Brass Coast, and the Marches. The Navarr by contrast, spoke out in support of the Iron Hems and their tactics, and the Varushkan Assembly absolutely stood behind its soldiers and told the other nations to keep their noses out of Varushkan business.

The matter is not fully resolved; The soldiers of Wintermark and the Brass Coast still shun the Varushkan armies, although they have not shared a campaign with them in several years. There are still questions raised in the Synod about whether "cruel tactics" are virtuous or not. In Spring 383YE in response to an Urizen statement of principle asking people to find ways to reward those who had helped drive the Grendel out of Spiral, the common folk of the nation revolted, making it very clear they blamed the Iron Helms for awakening the horror that lies at the heart of Spiral.


The ability to deliver crippling blows made the Ironbound Axe the weapon of choice for captains and officers associated with the fearsome Iron Helms army. Stories are still told of Hunger (or Golod as it was known originally), the artefact weapon wielded by the generals of the Iron Helms since before the founding of the Empire. The deadly waraxe is said to have been carried by the hero Mihaela Malinovia when she "fell from the heavens" along with the other Vard. It was wielded in the battles against the Ushkan people, and passed down from hero to hero through Varushkans often troubled history. Today, it is believed to be in the possession of the Malinov family of Karsk who claimed it when the Iron Helms were disbanded in the reign of Empress Mariika. Only cursory efforts were ever made to recover the item for the Empire - it is said that it is so old and has shed so much blood that it has developed a dark spirit that urges its wielders to commit unspeakable acts in pursuit of their goals. Perhaps the Empire is better off without it.

On Cruelty
Varushkans are not evil, or no more likely to be "evil" than members of any other nation. The Iron Helms represent some of the blackest hearts in Varushka and they are cruel, but they're not sadistic or bloodthirsty. They're perfectly capable of following their general's orders and fighting with the same discipline as any other Imperial army.

However when their general commands it, they're also capable of inflicting the most callous punishment on Varushka's enemies. They don't shy away from impaling their enemies, or unleashing hounds to tear the flesh from their faces. But they employ these tactics in the name of protecting their people and their lands, they don't kill for the pleasure of it. In Varushka, the rule of the boyars is hard but the real monsters lie outside their walls.


The vast majority of the soldiers of the Iron Helms are Varushkan citizens, many drawn from the eastern territory of Karsk, especially vales in Moresvah and Branoc. Most favour tightly woven scale, the finest the artisans of Karsk can forge. Others prefer the freedom of movement offered by dark leather lamellar. Some adorn their peaked helms with black plumes. Along with the soldiers, the army is famous for it's dog handlers, who fight alongside well-trained Varushkan mastiffs. One word will send them racing into the enemy to harry, to trip, to savage. Another word will cause them to fall on downed warriors, tearing at throats and bellies until the enemy is so much bleeding meat. The houndmasters fight alongside their hounds and with their pugnacious jaws, wild hair, growling voices, the seem to prove the old cliché that people begin to look like their dogs. There are unsubstantiated stories that on nights when the moon is dark they hunt alongside them through the forests of Lestasny, wrapped in the skin of wolves. This is most likely untrue, but adds to the mystique and the fear that the Iron Helms bring with them.

The hounds are not the only beasts that march with the Iron Helms. The army is regularly accompanied by a small number of eerie warriors hailing from the hills of Branoc. They wear fur and boiled leather, and they are adorned with black feathers. Their faces are painted white, in disturbing patterns. They look a little more like Kallavesi, or Navarr, than true Varushkans. Many of their fellow soldiers give them a wide berth, and when they camp their yurts are invariably sited a short distance from the others. There are said to be a number of cabalists among them, privy to the unsettling secret lore of the Lord of the Broken Barrow.

When the Iron Helms march, above their column drift night-feathered carrion birds. In the evening and the morning, they crowd in the trees, croaking and muttering to one another. Some of the soldiers are said to speak with the birds as night falls. What they discuss, and who these soldiers are, is not a topic for open discussion.

Alderei the Fair, General of the Iron Helms

Army Quality : Cruel

The core of the army is made up of former followers of a sovereign known as the Charnel Lord. The Iron Helms are renowned for their cruelty, employing merciless strategy against those they face in war.

Spring Equinox 386YEAlderei the Fair
Spring Equinox 385YEAlderei the Fair
Spring Equinox 384YEAlderei the Fair
Winter Solstice 383YEPavel Denisovich Patriciu
Spring Equinox 383YEMagnus Anatolyvich Prochnost
Spring Equinox 382YEMagnus Anatolyvich Prochnost
Summer Solstice 381YEMagnus Anatolyvich Prochnost
Spring Equinox 381YEAkstis Eigulys
Winter Solstice 380YEAkstis Eigulys

Recent Elections

This title is currently held by Alderei the Fair; it will be reelected at Spring Equinox 387YE. The table to the right shows the citizens who have been elected to hold the title of General of the Iron Helms in the years since Empress Britta died.

Further Reading

  • Daylight fading - 385YE Spring Wind of Fortune discussing the artifact axe Hunger and misconceptions about the Iron Helms
  • Crow on the cradle - 379YE Wind of Fortune proposing the refounding of the Iron Helms